Learning in Cross-organizational New Product Development Teams

11 Nov 2010 Sandeep Mehta

Another interesting article from the Journal of Product Innovation Management: Increasing Learning and Time Efficiency in Interorganizational New Product Development Teams. The thesis is clear – cross organizational product development is on the rise.  However, it is unclear that processes exist to learn and improve performance from these projects:

Despite the growing popularity of new product development across organizational boundaries, the processes, mechanisms, or dynamics that leverage performance in interorganizational (I-O) product development teams are not well understood. Such teams are staffed with individuals drawn from the partnering firms and are relied on to develop successful new products while at the same time enhancing mutual learning and reducing development time. However, these collaborations can encounter difficulties when partners from different corporate cultures and thought worlds must coordinate and depend on one another and often lead to disappointing performance

Some interesting learnings about what drives success: Caring, Safety and Shared Problem Solving (team building?)

To facilitate collaboration, the creation of a safe, supportive, challenging, and engaging environment is particularly important for enabling productive collaborative I-O teamwork and is essential for learning and time efficient product development. This research develops and tests a model of proposed factors to increase both learning and time efficiency on I-O new product teams. It is argued that specific behaviors (caring), beliefs (psychological safety), task-related processes (shared problem solving), and governance mechanisms (clear management direction) create a positive climate that increases learning and time efficiency on I-O teams.

The results seem to have been validated empirically:

Results of an empirical study of 50 collaborative new product development projects indicate that (1) shared problem solving and caring behavior support both learning and time efficiency on I-O teams, (2) team psychological safety is positively related to learning, (3) management direction is positively associated with time efficiency, and (4) shared problem solving is more strongly related to both performance dimensions than are the other factors. The factors supporting time efficiency are slightly different from those that foster learning. The relative importance of these factors also differs considerably for both performance aspects.

Here is the take home message (lets add it to the other learnings from the past – including virtual team performance):

Overall, this study contributes to a better understanding of the factors that facilitate a favorable environment for productive collaboration on I-O teams, which go beyond contracts or top-management supervision. Establishing such an environment can help to balance management concerns and promote the success of I-O teams. The significance of the results is elevated by the fragility of collaborative ventures and their potential for failure, when firms with different organizational cultures, thought worlds, objectives, and intentions increasingly decide to work across organizational boundaries for the development of new products.

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